Trumpists’ assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats

Donald Trump
Greg Nash

Donald Trump’s effort to cancel Joe Biden’s victory reminds us that there are two essential components of genuine democracy: free and fair elections, followed by acceptance of the results, even over the objection of powerful losers.

I argued previously that the utter failure of Trump’s initially desperate, ultimately demonic effort to stave off his electoral repudiation demonstrated the strength of America’s commitment to the second step of the process.

My subject today is what 2020 says about the first. My assessment here is more tentative, given that the electoral defeat of the xenophobic populists was less decisive than the rout of their attempted post-election coup. But I am optimistic because most of the factors that will decide which side wins the next round of the struggle between inclusive, mutually tolerant governance respectful of pluralism, on the one hand, and angry, intolerant majoritarian absolutism, on the other, will strongly favor the former.

There is one important negative: The hope that the Republican Party would reject Trumpist rejectionism to take up the role of a responsible conservative opposition was wishful thinking. When the majority of Republicans only broke with Trump when they could do so in secret, it confirmed that those defined as “Republicans In Name Only,” or RINOs, are heavily outnumbered within their party by “Hypocritical, Invertebrate, Pandering Politicos,” or “HIPPOs” (confirming what I have learned from the TV shows my husband watches, that hippos are more dangerous than rhinos.)

But even this has an upside. The judgment of the majority of Republican officeholders that surviving their primaries requires allegiance to Trump’s presidency-in-exile means that while the consequences of their winning back control of government will be dire, the prospects of that happening are much dimmer.

This dynamic has two engines, both of which have gained even more force since then, powered by one of the most elemental forces in recent American politics — Donald Trump’s ego.

The Trumpists’ assaults on their Republican colleagues who refused to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats in two ways in 2022. Some will lose their marginal seats to hard-line Republicans in primaries, who will lose, in turn, to Democrats. Others will be defeated in the general election by the defection of Trump’s loyalists, in the form of either support for a third party or abstention from voting.

Second, both in open seats (of which there will be an unusually large number, due to the retirement of Senate Republicans) and in races where incumbent Democrats would ordinarily have been vulnerable in the first midterm of a Democratic presidency, there will be a strong correlation between strength in Republican primaries and weakness in the general election. More Democrats next year may follow in the footsteps of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who would very likely have lost in 2010 had they not been running against wholly implausible Tea Partiers. (I forget which one of their opponents felt the need to declare she was not a witch.)

So far, my argument has been largely negative — consisting of my confidence that, as the electorate stands today, revulsion at the ugliness of the behavior of the Republican Party will keep it out of power.

But there is a powerful legacy of the past year that offers an opportunity for Democrats to go beyond a partisan victory to achieve a positive transformation in our politics. That is the tectonic shift in American attitudes toward the role of government, embodied by the broad popular support for vigorous government action to deal with the pandemic. With the Republicans in self-wounding turmoil and a public convinced that, contra to Ronald Reagan, the federal government can be here to help us, President Biden can break the vicious cycle that has fostered the rejection of liberal democracy that has marked this century.

Widespread popular anger at the failure of governments to correct the tendency of contemporary capitalism to generate massive inequality has been self-perpetuating. It has been the obstacle to government policy that gives the fairness with which wealth is distributed the same weight as that of how much is created. The inability to escape this trap cost both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama their congressional support midway through their first presidential terms. While Joe Biden started with even smaller margins in both houses of Congress, that is more than offset by the significant majority of voters who support — indeed, demand — extensive collective action in support of our quality of life.

Even if Hillary Clinton’s impolitic definition of half of Trump’s backers as “deplorables” was numerically correct — and albeit, after Jan. 6, adjectivally too generous (“despicables” comes closer) — that leaves tens of millions who voted for Trump to express resentment at the economic unfairness from which they are suffering.

This means that adopting Biden’s program to begin making a tangible positive difference in the lives of middle- and working-class people is not just good short-term politics and appropriate countercyclical economics. It also can set in motion the process of restoring public confidence in our democracy.

Barney Frank represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 terms (1981-2013) and was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee from 2007 to 2011.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Barack Obama Bill Clinton Capitol attack Capitol breach Capitol insurrection Chris Coons coronavirus pandemic Donald Trump Harry Reid Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Law and order Political career of Donald Trump political divisions Presidency of Donald Trump Republican Party The Deplorables Trump party trump republicans trumpism

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video